Andrew Heidel Welcomes a Special “Guest”

R. Andrew Heidel’s Desperate Moon, from England’s PS Publishing, brings together three previous collections’ worth of short stories that have earned him praise from the likes of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison. And, he reports, “the American rights are still available if you want to publish my sweet short stories here.”

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My first introduction to H.P. Lovecraft was not through his literature but the loosely based but wonderfully executed B-movie based on his short story “Reanimator.” I remember watching it in Liz Furst’s basement, whose father became a millionaire with Vestron Videos and the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video and “The Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.” (On a side note, this is also the company that released “Dirty Dancing” for which I got to read the original script, and released on video “Chopping Mall” whose director Jim Wynorski would later disembowel my satiric script about reality television originally entitled “Survive This” and turn it into a bad soft porn called “Treasure Hunt” produced by Roger Corman… but that’s another story.)

But I digress. This was 1986, I was 17, and I was in the throes of my horror reading phase. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub and Edgar Allen Poe. Each weekend we’d gather in Liz’s basement and watch the latest B-Movie horror provided courtesy of Vestron and relish in the horror and gore. Each week I’d stay up late and devour another book. I soon sought out Lovecraft’s works and the more I read, the more I loved, and the more I wanted to know. While reading a biography on Lovecraft, I discovered that his few fantasy works like “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” were inspired by the Terry Gilliam-esque Lord Dunsany, a little known but famous for his day writer and playwright.

I read Dunsany’s The Book of Wonder and was hooked when I read his story “The Guest.” When I first started writing, I had trouble writing a story longer than 3 or 4 pages and wondered what was wrong with me. Writers were supposed to be prolific and write grandiose tales of a superior length: weren’t they? Lord Dunsany wrote what I consider the best short story ever in a mere two pages. “The Guest” is told from the point of view of a waiter who attends to a regular patron that arrives and dines alone. Not only does he dine alone, but also holds a one sided conversation with an imaginary person across the table from him. During the evening the diner discuses the fascinating people his non-apparent guest has met during his life: kings, paupers, popes and peddlers.

The confused waiter, being proper and British, merely observes this talk and thinks he must be a bit off his rocker. He notes that at the end of the meal, the customer orders tea, adds a tablet, drinks, falls dead and that only then his “Guest” is revealed. My brain flipped, doing one of those paradigm shifts that happen every once in a while—like when you get out of a subway and are convinced that a certain direction is north, until you receive a clue and the internal map in your head reverses and aligns with the reality around you. I immediately reread the story with the end in mind and upon rereading discovered whom the guest was all along.

To me, the mark of a great short story is one that makes you savor the language, the economy of words where every word counts, and its ability to make you want to read it again to glean something new. In our short attention span world, I don’t understand why short stories aren’t more popular. They are perfect bite sized servings with little commitment but incredible rewards.

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12 September 2006 | selling shorts |